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How to Plant From Seeds
Planting seeds directly into the ground is called direct seeding. Direct seeding successfully can be challenging if you do not know a few important factors about seed starting. Conversely, if seeds are given ideal soil conditions, most will germinate and sprout within a few days. The exception is seeds that are naturally slow to germinate or seeds with hard seed coats that resist moisture penetration.
How Often to Water Your Seeds
The number one cause of poor germination is the lack of even, consistent soil moisture needed to ensure the seed can germinate. Seeds require constant and consistent watering to germinate. In hot climates like Zones 9 and 10, this can be difficult for growers. If you will be planting your seeds in a raised bed, we recommend that you thoroughly water the bed prior to planting. We advise that you dig down at least 6″ to ensure that the water has penetrated all levels of the raised bed soil.
You can cover the freshly planted seeds with a shade cloth to prevent the soil from drying out too quickly. On our farm, this is our number one trick to keep the soil moist and ensure even germination of seeds.
Prevent Seedlings from Drowning
Once seedlings have sprouted you should pull back on watering if your soil holds on to moisture. Drowning your seedlings is the second most common mistake gardeners make. Seed sprouts need lots of oxygen to grow. If seedlings are left in standing water or waterlogged soil, this can cause an undersupply of oxygen and the sprouts will die.
Use Finely Sifted Soil to Cover Seeds
When planting seeds, you want to make sure they are not covered with heavy, hard soil, or debris. Seeds have very little extra energy for anything except sprouting through soft soil and reaching towards the light for photosynthesis. This means your sprouts cannot push through large soil particles, sticks, or rocks in the soil. It is your job as a gardener to ensure the soil you top your seeds with is finely sifted and free of obstructions that would prevent the seed from making its way to the top.
Prevent Soil Crust
When direct seeding, you want to ensure that a soil crust does not form. Soil naturally has many different sized aggregates. From small pebbles to the tiniest sand particles, soil varies widely in its composition. Much like concrete, when soil is watered with a sprinkler or rain droplets, larger particles are pushed further down into the ground allowing smaller particles to form a crust. This crust can prevent seeds from breaking through the surface. By mixing in large amounts of organic matter, you can prevent hard crusts from forming. This is referred to as improving the “tilth” of the soil. If your garden area is new and has poor soil composition, you can focus just on the areas where you wish to direct sow your seeds. To improve the soil in the seedbeds, add 2″ of compost thoroughly mixed into the top 2″ of the soil. Use a soft rake and finely rake the seedbed. Remove any debris, sticks, or rocks. Avoid walking on the newly created seedbed.
Create a Furrow
When planting seeds directly in the ground, we recommend that you make a furrow. A furrow, like the ones shown in the photo, is an indention in the soil that you can make with a dowel, handle of a rake, or even just your hand. A furrow does several things. It gives your seeds a place to stay put, helps retain moisture by creating capillary action in the soil, and helps you identify where you planted your seeds. Don’t forget to label what you planted and the date!
Once your furrow has been created in moist soil, you can begin planting seeds. We recommend that instead of burying your seeds, you place them in the furrow then cover them. By covering seeds with finely sifted soil, they can use as little energy as possible to break through the soil.
Once your seeds have sprouted, it is time to protect them! It is essential that you protect seedlings from small bugs they have sprouted.
There are many products you can use to protect your seedlings from damaging bugs. Diatomaceous earth works great but MUST be kept dry. We like to add a physical barrier to keep insects away from seedlings. You can do so by using a small pot that you cut the bottom out of. It is just enough to keep insects out and the diatomaceous earth dry.
Lastly, it is important to provide sun protection to keep your seedlings from wilting. We use shade cloth year round but it is especially vital when it comes to our fall seed starting success during the hottest months of the year.